Downtown is the city’s economic engine

By: Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision

You can find this article in current issue of J Magazine and online at

We all know them. Our friends who live at the beach. We get it, it’s beautiful out there. It’s a great part of our city. But why no love for Downtown? Many people who live in Jacksonville are Downtown pessimists. Feet in the sand, looking out at the waves, they say, “I never go there! Downtown doesn’t matter to me!”

They’re wrong. Like it or not, Downtown Jacksonville matters to every single one of them. Even if they never cross the ditch. But don’t smack your beach-side buddies with a frisbee, hit them with these four simple reasons why a better Downtown means a better Jacksonville for all of us!

It’s simple: Downtown is the primary economic engine for our region.

Investing in our “engine” makes it run stronger, creating more jobs and more tax dollars for essential community needs like roads, parks, police and replacing dunes on the beach.

Sure, we know Downtown is the epicenter of Jacksonville’s culture and entertainment. The Jaguars. The Jumbo Shrimp. Concerts. Museums. Festivals. Fireworks. But perhaps more importantly, it’s where business happens. It’s where the skyscraping office towers contain millions of square feet of jobs and commercial activity, investment capital and taxable value.

It’s a proven model

Across the U.S., downtowns remain the greatest generator of tax dollars. And with more money to invest, cities better themselves.

Investing in downtown is rewarded with economic prosperity. In 1996, the city of Minneapolis committed to $2 billion of investment in its downtown. In 2011, it renewed that pledge with another $2 billion. Today, the three square miles of downtown Minneapolis accounts for 36 percent of all property tax revenues in the city. Even more impressive, more than half of all jobs in Minneapolis are now downtown. This story is not unique: Tampa, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Nashville and many others have drastically improved their economic outlook with significant downtown investment.

If we grow our Downtown tax base, the funds raised will be spent in all neighborhoods, all the way to the beach.

The numbers don’t lie

This all works because healthy Downtowns deliver so much value and a much higher return on investment than sprawling suburbs.

Here’s a real-life example: A suburban Walmart in Jacksonville on 20 acres pays roughly $280,000 in taxes. The Wells Fargo Center skyscraper in Downtown on just three acres pays more than $1 million in taxes. In cost per acre, Downtown is almost 25 times more valuable.

Here’s another: Duval County averages $74 million in taxable value for each of its many square miles. But in Downtown, our half-square-mile business improvement district averages $1.9 BILLION in taxable value per square mile, again over 25 times more valuable!

For a city, a dense, healthy commercial urban center is almost impossible to duplicate. Even the most expensive residential homes can’t compare to the tax-generating value of commercial office buildings. In Duval County today, commercial real estate parcels make up only 11 percent of the total parcels, but already account for more than 40 percent of total taxable value.

Our face to the world

Even with the economics tipped heavily in favor of Downtown investment, its most important value might be something more intangible: our civic identity.

More than a profit center, a Downtown embodies the image and character of a city to the rest of the world. A strong downtown indeed helps power a city — not just in tax revenue, but also in civic pride and recruiting talented people. When you think of a city, you usually think of its downtown first. City reputations are made on their skylines.

Downtowns are truly unique in that they are the only neighborhood shared by the entire community. At Downtown Vision, we want everyone to enjoy Downtown. (We even built a website — — to help.) So tell your beach-loving friends: Even if they never come to #DTJax for a Jaguars game or MOCA Jacksonville or the Museum of Science and History or the Symphony or the Florida Theatre or the Jacksonville Jazz Fest, Downtown matters!

Jake Gordon has been CEO of Downtown Vision since 2015. He lives in San Marco.